College Visit – A Marketer’s Perspective

The first impression

The first impression

Last week we combined a family trip to DC to start looking at colleges as my son will be a junior in high school.  Despite being on vacation – having the out of office email messages set and clients informed that I was away – I could not refrain from wearing my marketer’s hat while in the information sessions and touring each campus.

Colleges are in a very competitive market.  Students have so many choices of where to apply and the common application has made the process easier to cast a wider net than when I was applying to college.  Colleges need to have a clear value proposition, understand their target audience, present their brand clearly to parents and students – it is a classic marketing opportunity to do it really well or to miss the mark and lose the prospect. 

We sat in 4 information sessions and took 4 campus tours in the course of two steamy days in Washington DC.  Data points from the marketer:

– Two admissions offices had snacks and bottled water readily available along with umbrellas- a nice touch and nice attention to detail given the heat.

– 3 out of 4 used video and PowerPoints for their information session – they were professional, presented their value proposition and their points of differentiation well.  I was amazed that one school’s information session was in a large room with no visual aids – it was the worst information session and was especially boring.

– Facts:  it is great to share statistics.  What was noticeable, however, was inconsistent numbers!  The presenter in the info session would share one stat and the tour guide’s numbers were slightly different.  When my 11 year old picks up on how the numbers did not match, it is time for the message to be revisited and the numbers to be consistent!  The inconsistency plants seeds of doubt.  Get the message straight and then ensure all ‘touch points’ are on message. 

– only 1 tour went by the school book store!  Wow!  What is the best indicator of if a prospect is interested in your school?  They buy a t-shirt or sweatshirt after the tour.  Kudos to Georgetown University for designing and orchestrating a tour that ended at the bookstore.  We left with a bag full of Georgetown stuff.

– You have one chance for a first impression.  Tour guides can make or break a college visit.  We can all learn from carefully evaluating, screening and training team members to ensure they represent the brand.  One of our tour guides was so incredibly nervous, it was painful to listen to him after a while and watch him twitch and shift his weight and fumble over his words.  I had to tune him out and my son’s comment as we exited the tour at our first chance was that he ‘was annoying’.

 – Personal follow-up!  This is sales 101 basics – sell the school to the parents and the prospective student!  One student tour guide wrote and mailed and personal thank you to my son that arrived shortly after we returned from our trip.  Kudos to Catholic University for a well-planned tour, impressive tour guide, and great follow-up.  We knew nothing about this school, and all 4 of us were very impressed after our visit. 

Marketing a college successfully demands a solid marketing foundation – knowing the competition, knowing the target audience, presenting the message clearly, concisely and consistently and continuing to follow up with prospects to inform and nurture the relationship.  Finally – none of the tours asked for feedback from the parents or the participants! What a missed opportunity.

For these schools’ marketing department, there are more lessons to be learned.

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One Response to “College Visit – A Marketer’s Perspective”

  1. GetCollegeFunding (@CollegePlanners) Says:

    I love this article…we are college planners, and have picked up the marketing bug the past few years…you will notice lead magnets, follow up campaigns…so much automation We doo wear our marketing hats when we visit colleges…Our LEAST favorite in the DC area was American…Georgetown was amazing. Check out our website…and our hook…and our lead magnets. 🙂

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